Edward Wilson Lee’s acclaimed exploration of the influence in Africa of Shakespeare the global poet has won praise across the Atlantic and the beautiful US hardback edition is available from Farrar Straus and Giroux now. William Collins published in the UK in March 2016, and German rights are sold to btb.
In the US, Kirkus Reviews wrote that ‘Wilson-Lee enjoyably melds memoir, history, and literary travelogue to reveal the surprising hold that Shakespeare continues to have on a culture remote from his own’ and Publishers Weekly said ‘Wilson-Lee draws a rich portrait of a region of Africa in which Shakespeare was familiar, adored, and widely performed with numerous local embellishments’, describing it as ‘acrobatic in style and impressive in scholarship.’
This surprising and intriguing literary history of Shakespeare's influence in East Africa sprang from Cambridge academic Edward Wilson-Lee’s own roots in Kenya. Beginning with Victorian-era expeditions in which Shakespeare's works were the sole reading material carried into the interior, the Bard has been a vital touchstone throughout the region. His plays were printed by liberated slaves as one of the first texts in Swahili, performed by Indian labourers while they built the Uganda railroad, used to argue for native rights, and translated by intellectuals, revolutionaries, and independence leaders.
Weaving together stories of explorers staggering through Africa's interior, eccentrics living out their dreams on the savanna, decadent émigrés, Cold War intrigues, and even Che Guevara, Edward Wilson-Lee tallies Shakespeare's influence in Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Travelling through these countries, he speaks with everyone from theatre directors and academics to soldiers and aid workers, discovering not only cultural dimensions traceable to Shakespeare's plays but also an overwhelming insistence that these works provide a key insight into the region.
An astonishing work of empathy and historical vision, SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND gets at the heart of what makes Shakespeare so universal and the role that his writings have played in thinking about what it means to be human.
Read Edward Wilson-Lee on other poets, Auden and Eliot, and how that led him to writing.
In this series of clips Edward considers questions like “What would the world be like without Shakespeare?” and why Antony & Cleopatra is (currently) his favourite Shakespeare play.
Edward Wilson-Lee was raised in Kenya by conservationist parents, studied English at University College London, and completed a doctorate at Oxford and Cambridge. Over the past few years he has spent extended periods in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. He now lives in Cambridge with his wife and son, and teaches Shakespeare at Sidney Sussex College. SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND is his first book and a second title is under contract to William Collins.
MORE PRAISE FOR SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND
‘There is no better time to recommend SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND: IN SEARCH OF A GLOBAL POET. A lecturer at Cambridge, Wilson-Lee was born on the African continent and spent his formative years in Kenya. This book evinces a remarkable familiarity with Africa, filtered through the lens of that most-English poet and playwright. Tracing the history of Shakespeare’s impact on Africa—from Victorian settlers to modern independence movements—Wilson-Lee shows the Bard to be a man for all continents.’ — The New Criterion
‘Edward Wilson-Lee . . . has successfully told a lesser-known story of Africa, and it is a story worth knowing.’ —The Economist
‘A fascinating book—part travelogue, part cultural history . . . Wilson-Lee proves a perceptive and entertaining guide to the Bard's influence in Swahililand.’ —Andrew Lycett, Literary Review
‘Wilson-Lee’s account of his East African Shakespeare-hunt is vivid and full of insights.’ —Daniel Hahn, The Independent
'SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND is an enjoyable story full of history and valuable insight into the work of England’s preeminent playwright and poet, told by a man whose prose is so well crafted that the reader will feel as if he/she was on the road with Edward Wilson-Lee while he was doing his research.' - The Roanoke Times